Disarming Inner Roots of Conflict

The inner roots of conflict express themselves in our minds in various subjective forms. Two forms I have found particularly fruitful to work with are argument and antipathy. Arguments are constantly going on in our minds; antipathy toward various people and circumstances is constantly arising there as well. When we come to realize that these arguments and these feelings are not what they seem to be, we have taken a big step toward disarming the inner tendency toward external conflict.

When we first begin meditating and begin to become conscious of the functioning of our mind, we may be amazed at how much of our mental activity seems to be given over to arguments. After a while we begin to notice that the structure of the arguments is far more significant than their content. The arguments seem to take two basic forms. We defend ourselves against unjust attacks by others, or we argue that we deserve more credit and attention than we are getting from various people in our lives. As our focus continues we begin to notice that while the people we are arguing with and the content of the arguments change all the time, the forms remain constant. It is as if these argumentative structures have been hardwired into our brain and just keep repeating themselves like some kind of manic tape loop. In our usual unmindful state, we are prone to taking the content of the arguments at face value. Out in our lives, we are truly angry at the people we feel have accused us unjustly or failed to give us proper credit.

Only after watching the forms of these arguments rise up over and over again, each time with a different cast of characters and particulars, does it begin to occur to us that neither the characters nor the particulars are the point; the argument itself is the point. The template is there in our mind already, and all we have to do is fill it in with a few names and facts.

Simply watching this process unfold, the same old argumentative forms rising up in our mind and then filling themselves in with names and details as becomes necessary, begins to disarm the process. Realizing that these arguments have no inherent content but are just forms, habitual mental structures, makes us a lot less likely to take them seriously, to pursue the conflicts they lead us into with other people. Consciousness changes everything. Just being aware of this inner structural root of conflict will often prevent the conflict itself from arising.

The same is true of antipathy. When we first feel strong dislike or hatred rising up in our mind, we really believe it is inherently connected to its object, a particular person or circumstance we dislike or detest. But after we witness the same feeling arising in our mind with many different objects, we realize that it is the feeling itself and not the object that is essential. The antipathy is in us. And as we watch this feeling rise up over and over again in meditation, we begin to lose faith in this antipathy. We stop believing in it, and it begins to lose its hold over us.

So watching the internal markers of conflict can be an extremely fruitful focus of our practice. Watching the inner argument, watching antipathy, watching anger, watching feelings of jealousy and hurt as they arise in the mind, it becomes increasingly clear that they are essentially internal experiences, structures our own psyche has generated, and that the conflicts we experience in the external world are products of these structures, exercises in shadowboxing. The more we become aware of these structures, the more they begin to lose their power over us. Eventually they will fall away altogether, and the conflicts they engendered in our life will cease to arise.

Patterns of Conflict
Another marker of the inner roots of conflict is the repetitive patterns that occur in the various spheres of our life. We may have a particular kind of conflict in a relationship, leave the relationship because of it, and then find we have the identical problem in our next relationship and in the one after that. We may fall into a dispute at work. The person we were at odds with leaves the office, but before very long we find we are enmeshed in a similar conflict with another of our coworkers. These patterns are a fairly reliable sign that the cause of the conflict is within. As they disclose themselves in meditation, we can use them as pointers to the kinds of subjective forms we spoke of in the last practice point—the arguments, antipathy, anger, jealousy, and hurt that arise consistently in our mind. As we notice conflict repeating itself in our life, we can accustom ourself to shifting our focus from the external conflicts to their inner roots, and in this way we can begin to break these patterns.